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Alternative Assessment Resources for Teaching and Learning Online

Avent Ferry entrance to Centennial Campus. Photo by Roger Winstead.

There are many alternative authentic assessments instructors can use to assess student learning online without the need for proctored exams. Planning for and creating alternative assessments may be easier than you think, and when implemented appropriately, student mastery of learning is also likely to improve, while time spent grading can often be reduced.

A best practice for creating authentic assessments means they are completed before designing the curriculum. However, understand this backwards approach—although fitting for how many of us feel at this time—may not be feasible (time-wise) for instructors who are moving their summer on-campus courses online. In an effort to help, DELTA’s Planning and Assessment team has put together seven (and increasing) 1-page documents of alternative assessments that are the most easily designed and implemented for rethinking how to assess that students are meeting the learning objectives in your online course.

The goal is to offer quick access to the benefits, purposes, examples, links to rubrics, references, and technologies for alternative methods so that you don’t have to do the searching. Whether you are on-board or you’re not sure alternative assessments are rigorous enough for your course, here are some benefits to take into consideration. Alternative assessments

  • Empower students to take responsibility for their own learning
  • Motivate students to engage in course material more deeply
  • Reduce feelings of isolation in large courses (especially now)
  • Increase understanding and the ability to think critically for long-term retention
  • Help build life-long learning skills

As you are thinking about the type of assessment that best meets the goals and objectives of a particular course topic or unit that you are now teaching online, we recommend considering one or more authentic assessment methods.

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Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are simple, anonymous, non-graded, in-class activities used to check student understanding in real-time. Think of these as the lowest hanging fruit for involving students in gauging their understanding and skills. CATs can provide key information about teaching and learning so formative changes can be made to the course. Students develop self-assessment and learning management skills, and the ability to think critically for long-term retention.

Open Book Testing Online can be designed using difficult exam questions that are randomized. The exam times are typically kept “tight” to prevent students from scavenging for answers and require students to prepare ahead of time all the resources that are allowed or needed. Rigor can be built-in and taking the test requires students to do more than copy information from books or notes. One key benefit of this method is students are studying when they interact with the material to prepare for the test and it tests more than rote-learning/memorization.

ePortfolios are digital repositories of a selected set of student work and learning over time. Students are often involved in their portfolio planning, which helps them think about their learning and completed work as a whole. There is value in the instructor seeing how each student learns and what is important to them. When finished, portfolios provide meaningful data about student knowledge acquisition, improvement, and mastery of skills.

Online Presentations give students the opportunity to explore new concepts and present information in creative ways. Closely linked to Observations (see below), students actively participate in developing new knowledge on a topic. The real-world application beyond NC State is the increase in competence in speaking and presenting online. To be successful, online presentations require students to master the content and be able to think critically to answer questions.

Observations for online teaching and learning can be in the form of live or recorded video and/or audio of student skills, abilities, and knowledge in a course. Using videos, as an example, is a tool for instructors and students to observe and demonstrate the understanding of key course theories and concepts. Instructors can see direct evidence of student learning and/or growth, while also allowing students to reflect on their learning in a course. Observations can easily take place online (synchronously or asynchronously) using NC State’s enterprise learning technologies.

Peer Assessment provides structured learning processes for students to participate, critique, and give/receive feedback. Empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning enhances learning through knowledge sharing and the exchange of ideas, and builds life-long learning skills. Used in the studio arts, computer science, and elsewhere, peer assessment can be successfully integrated to assess learning in all disciplines. 

Self-Assessment is the process through which learners make judgments about their own learning. Often paired with peer assessment, observations, and presentations, self-assessment promotes the skills of reflective practice and self-monitoring. Integrating self-assessments promote academic integrity through self-reporting of one’s learning process. Students are empowered through their involvement in the process. (One side benefit is this method reduces the assessment load for the instructor.)

Depth of Knowledge (DoK) is a framework of four “levels” that can be used to categorize learning activities and assessments according to the level of rigor or complexity of thinking required. DoKs measure the depth and extent of learning and knowledge transfer to real-world contexts: Level 1 Recall; Level 2 Skill/Concept; Level 3 Strategic Thinking; Level 4 Extended Thinking.

Building Quizzes and exams is a resource for how and when to use more frequent, shorter tests to help students distribute their studying of course material instead of leaving studying until immediately before a test. General tips and resources for administering multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions are available.

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The above methods can be paired or more than one can be used in a semester and can be successfully integrated into courses that are now online. Academic integrity is less of a concern when involving students in their assessment because it often lowers student anxiety and pressure compared to short, timed exams that can tempt students to act dishonestly. Another bonus is the opportunity to strengthen student-student and faculty-student connections. For more information and support, contact for online teaching and learning assessment support.